Transfer Printing: How Does It Work?

In case you are planning to enter into transfer printing business and are genuinely interested to know about the most used printing technique in the industry, then you are a perfect spot at the right time.

Today we are going to discuss the heat transfer (heat) printing and try to understand their working mechanism, nature, and range of application, advantages, and limitation. We will also try to have an insight that why transfer printing is much more popular in small and medium fabric printing business.

What is Transfer Printing?

Transfer printing is a process of moving a pre-made designed, images or artwork on to another surface. This method was invented more than 250 years ago to tackle the challenges faced while printing on curved surfaces. In the process, ink is applied to a unique surface, which is then pressed against the surface where print has to be transferred, depending upon the type of material and print quality heat and pressure are applied to complete the transfer.  With the evolution of technology, today transfer printing is capable of printing the most complex images on almost all kinds of surface.

How does transfer printing work?

Okay, now you know what is transfer printing let us try to understand how this printing procedure works. Well, there are a couple of steps involved which are mentioned below.

Transfer Printing

  1. Creation of design: The first phase requires you to get your design ready for a transferable media, as we are focused on transfer printing for T-shirts our transfer media is transfer paper or film. The designs are printed and stored in advance so that they can be used when demand is high.
  2. Transferring the imprints: In this step depending upon the nature of the fabric, a suitable transfer method is selected in which the prints are transferred to fabric. For T-shirts and similar materials, we use heat press machines to get the final custom printed t-shirts.

Different types of transfer methods

The technology in fabric printing has evolved exponentially over the last couple of decades. As a result of today, we have various kinds of transfer methods available at our disposal. Depending upon our requirement we go for the most suitable one.

  1. Sublimation Transfer: Commercially it is the most used and highly popular transfer printing method in the print industry. In this method, volatile dyes are used to print the base design on the transfer paper. When the design is heated and pressurized along with fabric in the heat press, the vapor of dye is absorbed by material in contact. Most of the T-shirt printing is done by this method only.
  2. Melt Transfer: This method was more popular in the early 20th century, here the design is printed on paper using waxy ink. Then it is carefully placed with ink side facing on the fabric, and a hot iron is applied while pressing the paper. As a result, the ink melts on the garment. This method is still used
  3. Film Release: It can be considered as a version of sublimation transfer, the only change is that here the design is held within an ink layer, which gets completely transferred from paper to garment. It is also a commercially popular method.
  4. Wet Transfer: Here water-soluble inks are used to create the design and then it is transferred to a moistened fabric by carefully regulated contact pressure. The design transfer takes place by diffusion through an aqueous Currently, this method is not being used much.


The print transfer is so popular because it gives the user following advantages to the user.

  • It is less expensive as compared to others
  • Good for small to medium quantities
  • It can print complex images with multiple colors
  • Capable of printing on any type garment
  • It is quite easy for beginners


As every coin has two faces, transfer printing also has few limitations of its own

  • It is not ideal for huge quantities
  • Every design has to separately printed and stored which is not ideal


Considering the transfer printing for small business, it would prove an excellent choice. The features such as cheaper heat transfer machines, easy to use, lower space requirements obviously speak for itself. Moreover, this type of print can be scaled up or down depending upon demand. So transfer printing is ideal for start-ups which offer specially designed t-shirts and gifts, as there are no added overheads involved.

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